Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Thursday called on the proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to stick to the promises it had made with the government, warning that "things will be out of my hands" if the group fails to do so.
The minister made the comments while speaking on Geo News' programme 'Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Saath' during which he spoke about the recent protests by the group.
During the show, the minister categorically stated that the government would stop the group from entering Islamabad. He urged the protesters to turn back, otherwise the state would be left with no choice but to "establish its writ".
The minister said that while the government does not want violence, Prime Minister Imran Khan would not allow the country to become "hostage".
Addressing the TLP protesters, he said, "Your loss is our loss."
He said that the group talked about the finality of Prophethood, something which all Muslims believed in. "Why don't you believe us when we say that the French envoy has left the country?"
He stated that Pakistan was the centre of Islam and damaging the country would not serve the religion in any way. "PM Imran is the first person to form the Rehmatullil Alameen Authority and take the country towards making it a welfare state like Madina."
The minister said he had spoken to the TLP leadership — including the group's chief Saad Hussain Rizvi — multiple times in recent days and would talk to them again on Friday (tomorrow) and Saturday. "However, the talks would only be held after [the TLP] returns."
He said the Rangers had to be called in Punjab so that matters could be resolved, adding that matters with the TLP remained unresolved till now. Ahmed said the TLP had committed to unblocking roads and the group should fulfil its promise.
"Otherwise, matters will go out of my hand," he warned.
He said he had been trying to convince the TLP to keep its promises, "but if you keep moving forward [towards Islamabad], you will have to be stopped at some point".
"PM Imran has shown as much flexibility [in the matter] as he could."
He said while the government had accepted many of the TLP's demands, the latter hadn't agreed to return to their headquarters.
"The French ambassador is not in the country, a resolution [on the finality of prophethood] has been moved in the National Assembly," he said, referring to two of the TLP's demands. "Then what are you marching on Islamabad for?"
Reiterating that the prime minister had shown as much flexibility as was possible on the matter, the minister said the government couldn't be forced to do something.
"Our agreement with you still stands, but if you keep moving [towards Islamabad], the government will have to establish its writ," he said while addressing the protesters.
"The government is being mocked across the world [for not establishing its writ]," he said, adding that "matters should not reach a point of no-return".
"This time, PM Imran has decided that enough is enough."
The government would try its best to establish its writ, he said, "I request them (the TLP) to return ... But if they don't, whatever Allah wills will happen."
He said the premier had tried his best to resolve issues with the TLP, but the government's writ had to be established, and the interior ministry was bound to accept whatever order the premier would give.
"We are ready to go through with our agreement with the TLP," the minister said, warning the TLP of consequences if it didn't follow through with its commitments. "I don't want matters to worsen, and if that happens, those out on the road would be harmed."
The minister reiterated that the TLP had been declared a proscribed group, but had not been banned. "They can continue to play their political role, but in case the situation escalates, PM Imran will have to take a decision."
Speaking of the policemen martyred in clashes with the TLP, he said there had been a reaction from within the force.
"There are conspiracies under way to destabilise Pakistan and impose sanctions on us, but we should have the sense" to resolve problems peacefully, he said.
He further stated that he had signed the agreement with the TLP after PM Imran's approval. And the government stood by the commitments made in the agreement, he said, adding that he failed to understand what the problem was.
"It seems to me that the [actual] issue is being presented under the guise of something else."
When asked what would happen if the TLP continued to march towards Islamabad tomorrow (Friday), Ahmed replied, "We will try to stop them midway."